Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Obituary: Khaled Mohieddin (1922-2018):

 Last surviving member of the Revolutionary Command Council

Khaled Mohieddin, the last surviving member of the military council that ruled Egypt after overthrowing the monarchy more than six decades ago, has died at the age of 96 in Maadi’s Military Hospital.

Born on 17 August 1922 to a wealthy land-owning family with estates around the village of Kafr Shokr in Qalioubiya, Mohieddin was a rebel from childhood. In Now I Speak Out, a memoir published in 1992, he recalled how his mother used to upbraid him for preferring to play in the streets with the sons of the peasants who worked their land rather than acting as the son of the landlord.

Growing up during the national struggle against the British occupation Mohieddin decided to join the Army College from which he graduated in 1940.

A few years later he would become one of the six founders of the secret group of young army officers which changed the course of Egypt’s modern history. Alongside Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Mohieddin formed the Free Officers, the group that in 1952 ended the Mohamed Ali dynasty which had ruled Egypt since 1804.

Although Mohieddin and Nasser shared the same nationalist goals and were determined to end 80 years of British occupation, they differed sharply over one key issue — democracy. Nasser had little faith in the political parties that existed before the 1952 Revolution. He viewed them as corrupt and in collusion with the Palace and the British occupation.

In March 1954 a split occurred within the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). Its eldest member, Mohamed Naguib, wanted the army to return to their barracks and hold elections. Nasser, supported by a majority of RCC members, rejected this, believing democracy would hinder his wide-ranging ambitions.

Mohieddin was one of very few RCC member to side with Naguib, though because of his close personal relationship with Nasser, now Egypt’s resident, he was given the option of voluntary exile rather than arrest. The Red Major, as Nasser had dubbed Mohieddin because of his sympathy with the various communist groups that then existed, moved with his family to Switzerland. It would prove to be a short stay.

Following his decision to nationalise the Suez Canal in 1956, and the subsequent tripartite military attack by Britain, France and Israel, Nasser became a hero in the Arab world and in Africa and Latin America where many people were fighting against colonisation.

In early 1957 Mohieddin was allowed to return to Egypt secretly with his family and quickly restored his relationship with Nasser.

Despite his military background, Mohieddin was well-known as a writer and intellectual. Following his return he was appointed editor-in-chief of Al-Messa, a newly established newspaper and the first publication to be fully owned by the new military regime. It was published by Al-Tahrir, which also produced Al-Gomhouriya newspaper.

In the mid-1960s Mohieddin was appointed chairman of Al-Akhbar, one of the key newspapers nationalised by Nasser’s regime as it extended its control over the media.

Mohieddin never lost his connections to his hometown of Kafr Shokr, which until 2005, when he lost his seat to a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood group, he represented in parliament.

Mohieddin, always a champion of social justice, was also a strong defender of democracy and pluralism. When president Anwar Al-Sadat decided in the late 1970s to end the single-party rule of the Socialist Union Mohieddin joined ranks with prominent leaders of the Egyptian left and the Arab nationalist movement to form the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Tagammu.

Mohieddin never enjoyed a positive relationship with Sadat, though they were both key members of the RCC, and when the Tagammu opposed Sadat’s open-door economic policy, his shift away from an alliance with the Soviet Union in favour of the United States, and his signing of a unilateral peace deal with Israel in 1979, Sadat bitterly attacked Mohieddin. In a speech in front of parliament Sadat accused Mohieddin of being a “communist agent” in the service of the Soviet Union.

Al-Ahaly, the Tagammu’s newspaper, was repeatedly impounded for running articles critical of Sadat and his policies. In September 1981 Mohieddin narrowly escaped arrest when Sadat cracked down on his opponents, arresting over 3,000 in one night, including dozens of Tagammu members, Wafd leader Fouad Serageddin, and Nasser’s close associate Mohamed Hassanein Heikal.

A month later, Sadat was assassinated. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, took over in October 1981. Seeking to open a new chapter with the opposition the thousands of opponents detained by Sadat were released and Al-Ahaly resumed publication. Throughout the years Mohieddin chaired the Tagammu Party it continued to criticise economic policies which it said were biased towards the rich, remained a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause and opposed Mubarak’s renewal of his term in office in 1987, 1993, 1999 and 2005.

When Mubarak finally gave in to domestic and international pressure and decided in 2005 to allow multi candidate presidential elections instead of the traditional referendum to extend his rule the presidency approached Mohieddin and asked him to stand as a candidate. The veteran politician refused, insisting he would not take part in an attempt to deceive the Egyptian people and give the false impression that the presidential election was open.

It was a decision that cost Mohieddin his parliamentary seat. When he stood in the 2005 People’s Assembly elections, the security establishment, viscerally opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, backed Mohieddin’s Brotherhood opponent. Mohieddin lost the parliamentary seat he had occupied since 1957.

After losing his seat Mohieddin began to withdraw from public life, giving up his leadership of the Tagammu Party. As his health deteriorated he was confined more and more to his home in the Cairo neighbourhood of Zamalek.

Ibrahim Awad, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, says Mohieddin’s political career was shaped by his unerring support for the poor and for democracy.

“Mohieddin was quick to oppose the policies of the new July regime even though he was one its key figures. He rejected authoritarianism and decided to stay away when his colleagues refused to listen to his appeals for democracy.”

The other principle informing the positions Mohieddin took was his belief in “socialism as a means to achieve social justice”.

“There is no doubt Mohieddin, through his commitment to pluralism and social justice, not just in Egypt but in the entire developing world, was a pioneer in creating what we now know as the democratic left.”

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